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Self-reported long COVID affecting 2% of the UK population

Rod Tucker
7 January, 2022  

Self-reported ongoing symptoms, or long COVID, have been estimated to affect 2% of the UK population according to recent estimate

Self-reported symptoms after an acute infection with COVID-19 appears to currently affect around 2% of the UK according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

According to guidance in the UK issued by NICE, symptoms associated with infection with COVID-19 can be categorised as ‘acute’ when lasting up to four weeks and ‘ongoing’, when persisting for up to 12 weeks. The final category is termed ‘post-COVID-19 syndrome, in which signs and symptoms that develop during or after an infection consistent with COVID‑19, continue for more than 12 weeks and are not explained by an alternative diagnosis.

The ONS current data comes from an ongoing infection survey which measures the number of people across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, who test positive for COVID-19 infection at a given point in time, regardless of whether they report experiencing symptoms. Data are collected on the results of a random sample of swab tests conducted on a fortnightly basis from private households and includes children over the age of 2 years, adolescents and adults.

The latest data from the ONS relates to self-reported long covid symptoms, as opposed to a clinical diagnosis, and for the purposes of the survey, this has been defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected COVID-19 infection that were not due to something else.

Findings

Based on a sample of 351,850 responses, an estimated 1.3 million people living in private households in the UK, which amounts to 2% of the population, self-reported symptoms persisting for longer than four weeks after their first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) infection and which were not due to anything else, as of 6 December 2021.

Among this total, 21% first had COVID-19 (or suspected that they had it) less than 12 weeks previously, 70% first had COVID-19 at least 12 weeks before and 40% had COVID-19 at least one year ago. With respect to the impact of these symptoms, 64% stated that their symptoms adversely affected day-to-day activities with 20% reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.

The range of reported symptoms included fatigue (51%), followed by loss of smell (37%), shortness of breath (36%), and difficulty concentrating (28%). Furthermore, these symptoms and their impact were greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in health care, social care, or teaching and education.

Whether the number of people affected will increase over time remains to be seen but with the most recent ONS infection survey data estimating that in England, around 1 in 15 people (3,270,800) had COVID-19 at the end of December 2021, there is a real concern that the proportion of affected individuals will undoubtedly increase.